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Persevering Through the Marathon of Life

Last September I ran the Akron Marathon. It was my second time, and I had high hopes. The previous year I had suffered from muscle cramping late in the race and hadn’t finished as well as I’d wanted, so in 2019 I was anticipating great things. I trained all summer long, running many likes through heat, humidity, and even in the wee small hours of the morning. I was ready…or so I thought.

The race began on the grounds of the Stan Hywett mansion, a wonderfully picturesque place to begin. The sun was coming up as we headed across the front lawn and out the stone archway. The first half of the race wound through the neighborhood around the mansion, and I was running well, keeping my desired pace. There’s a long downhill stretch leading to the halfway point, and as the half-marathon runners peeled off for their finish, I crossed the bridge and kept going… But at mile 14, I started walking. Something wasn’t right. My stomach wasn’t feeling great, my breathing was a little weird, and my muscles were telling me all kinds of unkind things. Just a couple weeks earlier I’d run much farther than that with no problems at all. And yet, two miles later I found myself heaving in the grass apron in front of someone’s house along the race route.

I didn’t quit. Whether it was pride or stubbornness or the fact that I really wanted a medal, I’m not sure, but I wiped my mouth, drank some water, and kept going. I walked a lot, ran a little, and crossed the finish line almost 2 hours slower than my desired pace, collapsing in a heap on the infield of the Rubber Duck’s stadium. I was bone-tired. My muscles and my pride had both taken a beating.

I haven’t talked about that race much. When it came up in conversation in the weeks that followed, I minimized it, told a self-deprecating joke or two, and changed the subject. It was not one of the high points of my running career!

But now, almost a year later, I’m beginning to think that maybe it was. A couple verses in the book of James are changing my mind as I reflect on that day…

James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

There are a lot of things that come to mind as I ‘consider’ that day on the streets of Akron, but ‘pure joy’ isn’t one of them! Agony, defeat, maybe frustration...but not joy. And yet I agree that if there’s one thing it produced in me it was perseverance.

There are many things that we have to persevere through in this life, which are much more significant than a race. We face pain and strain, physically, relationally, and emotionally. Whether health concerns, family issues, grief, depression…the list goes on and on of things that we struggle through in this life. Add to that things like a global pandemic and social unrest, and life can seem completely overwhelming!

But James tells us that we should enjoy all of that trouble and pain! Why would he say that? Because when we ‘face trails of many kinds…’ When we run the marathon of life… When we find ourselves retching by the side of the road… it’s developing our character. We’re growing, maturing…in a word, persevering.

Many people have asked me about why I would even try to run a marathon. In addition to the sense of satisfaction, losing a few pounds, and a pretty cool medal to hang on the wall, I think underneath it all is a drive to grow…to stretch myself.

There are so many things that we learn, so many ways that we grow in life, that just don’t happen if we’re not under pressure, facing ‘trials of many kinds.’ It’s not necessarily ‘fun,’ and it’s difficult, and even downright painful at times, but through all of that, as we persevere, we become mature.

Whatever marathon you may be facing today, know that God is working His plan in you to ‘make you mature and complete, not lacking anything.’

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